The Pixel Slate is Google’s latest foray into the world of tablets, designed to compete with the iPad Pro or Microsoft Surface. Has Google finally bridged the gap between tablet and laptop with a Chrome OS-based device?
First Impressions and Design
The first thing you will notice about the Pixel Slate is the simple tablet design which oozes elegance and quality. A midnight blue or even “slate” blue, anodized aluminum chassis feels both strong and durable.
Although it is by far the largest tablet Google has ever made, the Slate is relatively light and thin. Weighing in at 1.6 pounds, the weight is, however, nearly doubled to 2.9 pounds with the keyboard attached.
Running your fingers around the edges of this device you will find dual USB-C ports, a volume rocker, and the power button. A simple yet ingenious feature, the power button also doubles as a fingerprint scanner for extra security.
The two USB-C ports can be used for charging the tablet, connecting external storage devices or displays up to 5K. One could also be used for listening to music with a supplied 3.5mm headphone jack to USB-C dongle provided—Apple please take note!
Display and Audio
The front of the Pixel Slate is dominated by a glorious display, protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5, which curves around the edges of the tablet. The smooth wrapped look of the glass helps make up for the slightly larger than expected bezels which hide the front firing speakers favored by Google devices.
The display itself is what Google calls a molecular display— low-temperature polymer crystals which move electrons quicker than standard displays. This allows for the 3000 x 2000 pixel display to produce a higher pixel density, at 294 PPI, than either the iPad Pro or Microsoft Surface Pro 6.
In simple terms, the Pixel Slate screen looks amazing. To match the quality of the display, the front facing speakers are some of the best you will find on a tablet. They may not feature Dolby Atmos, but they provide a rich and clear sound with good bass response, even at the louder levels they can reach.
The Keyboard Folio and Pen
The keyboard you can buy for this tablet from Google is surprisingly good and easy to use. You may be worried by the round keys but with a little acclimatization, you will soon be hitting decent speed.
The keys feature a good level of travel and are also back-lit, with the keyboard pulling power from the tablet via the magnetic connector.
A large glass trackpad with multi-gesture support accurately tracks your input and also provides smooth scrolling through your documents. The reclining fold of the keyboard allows for more angles than most folios, approaching the range of the excellent Surface Pro kickstand.
A PixelBook pen is again an optional (and costly) extra if you want to get the best from this tablet/laptop hybrid. Although it only features half the levels of pressure sensitivity of the Surface pen or Galaxy S pen, it does have Google Assistant capabilities.
Basically, you can circle an image or text with the PixelBook pen while asking the Assistant to help identify the thing you circled. Great fun for circling faces you may not recognize in press clippings, but also a useful research tool.
The internal hardware, processors and system RAM is where it gets messy when discussing the power of the Pixel Slate. There are eight options available, from an Intel Celeron processor at the bottom of the range, through to the Intel Core i7 at the top end.
System RAM also varies from 4GB to 16GB, with the majority featuring a more than adequate 8GB. Performance can vary enormously, but given the low power demands of most Chrome OS apps, they should all run without any major issues.
It’s when you want to use more demanding professional apps or packages that you will have to carefully consider how much power you need. The 8th Gen Intel Core m3 model, with 8GB of RAM, that we have chosen to look at, should have a similar, if not quite as high, performance to the iPad Pro or Microsoft Surface.
Gaming on a Pixel Slate will be limited to Google Play store and casual gaming. The poor integrated Intel graphics mean some 3D games like PUBG Mobile haven’t yet been optimized for Chrome OS.
Chrome OS as a Tablet or Laptop
The big advantage of Chrome OS for many is the full desktop web browser which is included, rather than a cutdown mobile version. Whipping through web-based apps like the Google Suite, or even multitasking with several tabs open, presents no problems to any of the Slate models.
With the keyboard attached, the Pixel Slate is just like any modern Chrome OS laptop. A system tray shows any pinned and running apps, with a start-menu style launcher in the bottom left corner. Apps open in windows which can be moved around and arranged just like a desktop machine.
When it comes to using it as a tablet, without the keyboard, that’s when problems arise.
The Drawbacks of Chrome OS
Chrome OS has been optimized for mobile use recently, with the launcher appearing as a home screen, filled with apps similar to iOS or Android.
However, most Android apps are still not fully optimized for Chrome OS and fail to make full use of the larger screen. Some apps, like Citymapper or Wire, refuse to run in landscape mode, while others merely stretch the app rather than use the extra estate of the display.
Should You Buy a Google Pixel Slate?
There’s plenty to love about the all-new Pixel Slate—the stunning highest pixel density display on the market is just one factor. The low power requirements of Chrome, ensuring a long battery life rated up to 12 hours, USB-C connectivity including external storage and a decent set of front firing speakers, are other reasons to love this tablet.
However, depending on the configuration, it can be expensive, especially when you add the cost of the keyboard and stylus. The Pixel Slate is a better laptop than the iPad Pro and a better tablet than the Microsoft Surface. Once Google fixes the mobile Chrome OS teething issues and bugs, the Pixel Slate could be a worthy replacement for both.